Here is a brief video on understanding your emotions. Your emotions inform you whether you like what is going on or not – pay more attention to the nuances to be better informed about how you are responding and thus to be able to make better choices in your life.
Cultivating an attitude of ongoing gratitude for the blessings in your life has been clinically proven to increase happiness, improve sleep and strengthen the immune system. Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal of brief thankful notes can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.
“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up”. – Eckhart Tolle
If you are like me, however, grumbling about life’s challenges often drowns out appreciation for the gifts of the day. Deliberately practicing gratitude helps me stay more balanced and positive.
How can you develop a practice of daily gratitude? The key is to have a variety of approaches and to cycle through them so that nothing gets stale. Here are some ideas:
- Keep a gratitude journal – Use this to bring your attention to the gifts of the day and of your life. Do this at the same time each day (just before bed?) keep it simple, unique to the day and make your entries brief. Look for new things to be grateful for each day to keep your brain fresh.
- Keep a gratitude jar for really special events – Write down the blessing, put it in the jar, and at the end of the year, read through these!
- Speak your gratitude about something to a friend.
- Share a gratitude on social media.
- Write a gratitude letter to someone to whom you have never adequately expressed your thanks.
- Let a loved one know how grateful you are for them.
- Give special thanks to another for their service.
Keep mixing it up so that you keep a fresh eye out for the blessings in your life and enjoy the benefits!
Bad moods are the result of holding painful emotions over time. Your emotions are messages that inform you that you either are, or are not, getting what you want. Painful emotions like anger, sadness, fear, shame and loneliness indicate that you are not getting what you want.
If you do not respond to your emotions, you will continue to stew in them and they will become moods. Bad moods create a great deal of suffering and are rarely useful. Here are 7 steps to follow to manage bad moods and reduce the amount of time you spend in a funk.
1) Admit that it is happening. Practice your self-awareness and internally directed compassion; notice when you are feeling bad.
2) Usually the information that underlies the bad mood is useful – there is something that you want that you are not getting. The information is valid, but ask yourself, “Is the energetic impact useful?”
3) If not, resolve to change your mood.
4) Courageously feel the mood as physical sensation (which is often on your midline in the torso). Breathe deeply to allow the physical sensation to be there without energetic or postural collapse.
5) The mood is about what you do not want. Keep breathing and think about what you do want. Honor your desire and make it vivid in your mind.
6) Give yourself a pep talk about the steps you have been, and plan on taking to make what you want a reality.
This process is useful in reducing the intensity and pain of most bad moods. It can also be of value to acknowledge that you have been actively doing something to perpetuate the mood. Most people create bad moods by mentally reviewing the cause of their original painful emotion and build a case for why it is appropriate for them to feel bad. “I can’t believe that she lied to me! I am just so outraged and offended! I just can’t trust her about anything! And on..” How could you feel good with this kind of negative internal dialogue going on?
If you are able to notice how exactly you are perpetuating a given mood, you might consider replacing that behavior with something more uplifting.
Managing your emotions and moods is essential to staying centered and having a happy life. If you would like more tools for doing this, consider contacting me and doing some personal work on these skills!
Emotions are often called “feelings” because they create characteristic patterns of tension and sensation in the body. They are usually the motivating energy behind what you do. Emotions held over time are called “moods” and gaining influence over your moods is extremely useful.
An interesting experiment was done where volunteers had their brains briefly electro-stimulated in certain areas. In some areas, the stimulation would immediately bring up an emotion – perhaps anger or grief. Once the stimulation stopped, the emotion would also stop. If the stimulation was maintained, however, soon the person’s biochemistry would start to change and their physical body would take on the tension patterns of the emotion as well.
Emotions can begin as purely mental events. They might arise and dissipate with the speed of thought. In the brain, these are electrical events. Feelings (the biochemistry and tension patterns created by emotions), however, take awhile to show up in the body. As a consequence, when you have a feeling (a tension pattern) you know that the emotion causing it is not a fleeting thing.
Emotions occur with or without self-awareness – in fact, identifying the emotions underlying your physical feelings is a learned skill. We are not born knowing how to do this and many people never learn how to put names on their feelings. Those who do not have a habit of paying attention to their physical sensations will generally not know what they are feeling emotionally either. We say these folks “live in their heads”.
As mental events, emotions are designed to arise and dissolve relatively quickly. Fundamentally, they are valuable messengers telling you whether you are having the experience you want or not. There is always a need, desire or preference beneath the emotion that either is, or is not, being met. For example, I might notice that I am feeling tight in my body in a way that is typical of anger. If I pause and introspect about that, I might discover that I am grumpy with my wife. If I persist, I might also discover that I wanted some kind of attention from her and am grumpy because I’m not getting it. In this way, introspection leads to awareness of my unmet desire. Identifying it will predictably allow my anger to soften and I might choose to ask my wife directly for what I want rather than stewing in poorly understood grumpiness.
As in this example, once the message has been received and used to inform your behavior, often the emotion will just melt away. When you do not listen to the messengers of emotion, however, they may try getting louder or persist as moods. Emotions usually change over a couple minutes if you pay attention to them. If you perpetuate them, the biochemical consequences will become stronger and they will become a longer lasting mood. Moods generally indicate you are not paying attention to (or taking action on) your emotional responses. In this way, for example, anger will turn into the mood of resentment, fear into anxiety, and sadness into depression.
Emotions, even emotions that feel bad, contain useful information. If you want more information about your experience, then pay more attention to your emotions, even if they are “negative” or are subtle. Bad moods, on the other hand, are rarely useful and are caused by you not paying attention and acting upon the information from your emotions.
Imagine two people, Jane and Jo: they both want appreciation from their partner for spending an hour cleaning up the kitchen. Unfortunately, their partner is oblivious. Both feel disappointed and frustrated because they are not getting what they want. In Jane’s world, the disappointment and frustration messenger rings her door bell but she doesn’t answer. Jane has learned to ignore and avoid her painful feelings. The emotion tries to get the message across by increasing her physical discomfort – “maybe a migraine will help” or perhaps the messenger (emotion) just stews on the doorstep outraged that Jane’s not answering and creates a really crappy mood and negative thoughts about her partner.
Jo, on the other hand, applies the material in this blog. She pays attention when frustration and disappointment ring her bell! She takes a moment of introspection, understands what she’s not getting and asks her partner directly for some appreciation. Her partner is embarrassed for not noticing, asks her forgiveness and expresses his appreciation with a 10 minute shoulder massage.
Which person would you like to be?
Summary Ideas: Emotions arise as messengers to inform you that your needs and preferences either are, or are not, being met. If emotions endure for some time they will change your biochemistry, and create tension patterns. Pay attention to your physical feelings as information. Identify and advocate for your unmet needs, desires and preferences to avoid being trapped in uncomfortable moods.
Here is an easy method for reducing distress and reconnecting with the best in yourself. Everyone should have a rich toolkit of these sorts of techniques.
- Notice that you are having an internal experience that you would like to change. Cues might be physical tension, stress, boredom, spaciness or something else.
- Make a sincere effort to shift your focus from your mind or emotions to the area around your heart. If it works in the situation, actually put a hand gently on your heart area. Feel the warmth there and pretend you are breathing through your heart to help you keep your attention there. Keep that up for 10 seconds or more.
- Recall a positive, fun feeling or experience you have had in your life and attempt to re-experience it.
- Now using intuition, common sense and sincerity, ask your heart for any advice on dealing with the stress, letting go of the past pain or reconnecting with the best in yourself.
- Listen with gratitude to your inner wisdom and resolve to act upon it.
This is a skill, so you will get better with practice. Practice right now!
This pattern is based on the Freeze-Frame process developed by HeartMath. They have done some great research on stress, heart rate variability and heart and breath rhythm coherence, check ’em out!
I am dismayed at the political state of the United States. Many of my clients feel scared, sad and hopeless about it. How do we remain emotionally centered and resilient in these difficult times? I know that I am most effective in whatever I am doing when I am in a good emotional space. Allowing external circumstances to drag me down is only going to undermine my value to others and drain my energy for doing the work that is necessary. So how do we remain hopeful and optimistic despite the discouraging news?
Here are some approaches to use. An important part of these is to recognize that paying attention to nourishing input deliberately does not require pretending that painful events do not exist. In a rose garden, smelling the roses does not require denying the existence of the thorns or the manure. Your day to day experience is like that – spending your time smelling the manure is an option, but not required! Even if you decide to work with the manure you do not have to stick your nose in it.
7 approaches for remaining centered in difficult times:
Recommit to your self-care. Most people allow their self-care to deteriorate under stress. Don’t. In fact, to make yourself more resilient, notch up the quality of your life-style 10%. Look at your patterns with diet, exercise and sleep. How can you improve them? How can you reduce your reliance on distractions with an addictive quality such as drugs, alcohol, or internet?
Maintain the long view. This country has gone through very trying times in the past. Despite this, we have been able to create positive institutions, great works of art and loving relationships. Humanity in general is maturing and behaviors that were socially acceptable in the past have become widely unacceptable. Persistent effort by people of goodwill makes a difference.
Think in context. Humans have gone through ordeals far more difficult than the one we are facing. Recall Nazi Germany, recall the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. What frame of mind did members of the French Resistance have to maintain during the Nazi occupation?
Control your thinking by controlling your input. Be aware of what experiences lift your spirits and which drain them. For instance, watching the news obsessively every day is a sure way to tax your resilience. Allowing yourself to express your outrage and upset daily or listening to your friends express theirs will connect you powerfully to energy draining emotions. I am not advocating denial, but be cautious about what you let in. The deliberately spend time in activities that leave you happy and optimistic. Play games with friends, laugh, watch comedies, listen to uplifting talks and podcasts, spend time with animals and in nature.
Strengthen your social network. Spend time with people doing things that are uplifting. Reach out with kindness to strangers, and explore new friendships. Join a new group, meet-up or group. Create time to really listen to others. We are all in this together, and each of us needs support.
Create and act on a plan. It is essential that good people stay committed to acts of kindness and service. These may be of a political nature, but they may also be volunteering at your local food bank. What are you going to do over the next 4 years to make the world a better place? Use your distress over the present to commit to making a more positive future. Deliberate and effective action is the best antidote to hopelessness and despair.
Set time aside to deeply relax and be in the moment. Despite challenging external events, the present moment is usually still a safe refuge. Create or find a nourishing external environment and relax into the world of your five senses. Savor warm tea, good food, lovely natural scenes, yummy scents, great music, or the warmth of a hug. Let yourself stay with the sensations for 10% longer than you might otherwise..
Staying centered in these times is paddling upstream. Admitting that, how do you want to feel? You have more power over this than it may seem. Looking back over this list, what are you willing to change to be more centered? Commit and make progress towards that today!
If you need some additional support, feel welcome to contact me!
Here is a 15 minute hypnotic induction to help you relax. It starts with suggestions to help you physically relax and let go, then takes you into deeper relaxation on a warm beach. It includes a number of helpful suggestions for self-confidence and ease.
I use this both as a restful power nap as well as a great way to enter a deeply nourishing night’s sleep.
This and other inductions are a great way to learn to relax more easily and more deeply. It is so important to allow your nervous system to rest. Use this and similar inductions to recharge your system so that you are ready to re-engage with your activities with more effective energy and focus!
In order to learn, grow and make systematic change in yourself and your life, it is helpful to focus your efforts on one thing at a time. One way to do this is to use the Life in Balance: The 7 Keys (see the free report button to the right?) model to define areas you would like to strengthen and then from that menu, choose one thing to focus on at a time. My clients who are willing to do this make clearly discernable progress on those areas and this naturally feels rewarding and empowering.
There is no right place to start since everything in your life is connected to everything else. It can be helpful to start with Key 1 and build towards Key 7, but go with what feels right for you. I will typically ask you what you would like to work on at the start of our relationship and at the start of each session. If you have decided what you want you are far more likely to be able to get it.
I recommend that you use the following list as a starting point. Note the goals that feel relevant to you and add refinements or ones that are not here. Once you have your own menu, organize it in two different ways – first prioritize your goals by importance or urgency and second by how much work you anticipate achieving this goal will take. This will give you a great place to work from. Please discuss your menu with me, and we will make a systematic plan for addressing it.
Here are some examples of goals for therapy and coaching in the 7 Keys model
I would like….
Key 1, Balanced Self Care:
- To have a better diet
- To have better fitness
- To lose weight
- To feel better about my body or appearance
- To be free of an addiction
- To have better sleep
- To have less physical tension
- To take better care of myself
Key 2, Mindfulness and Self-Understanding:
- To be more self-aware
- To understand my emotions better
- To manage my moods better
- To not be troubled by anxiety or depression
- To be less irritable or angry
- To worry less
- To be calmer
- To be more in control of my thinking
- To not have a compulsion
Key 3, Freedom From Your Past:
- To no longer be troubled by past events
- To no longer get triggered
- To longer have gaps in my memories
- To appreciate the gifts and lessons from my past
- To not feel crazy
- To be less confused
- To feel more grateful
Key 4, Relationship With Yourself
- To be kinder to myself
- To have better self-esteem
- To accept myself
- To be less judgmental
- To be more compassionate
- To be more generous
- To be more courageous
- To be more honest
Key 5, Relationship With Others:
- To understand others better
- To feel heard
- To know what I want and ask for it assertively
- To create a welcoming atmosphere for another to be real
- To be a better partner, parent, child, sibling, friend, employee
- To have better love, intimacy and sex
- To be able to resolve differences more respectfully and effectively
- To be more tolerant of others
Key 6, Values and Goals
With a certain project….
- To have a clearer plan
- To be able to make decisions more quickly
- To be able to stay motivated and energized
- To not feel blocked or limited
- To tap into my creativity
- To break through limiting beliefs
- To be more organized
- To have less clutter
- To feel successful
- To better understand my values
- To be able to identify, choose, commit and persist in working towards what I want
- To feel more abundant
Key 7, Nourishing Spiritual Life:
- To understand my ethics
- To be clear about what I believe
- To be more mindful
- To be more centered
- To be able to meditate
- To feel connected spiritually
- To have a method for connecting to my higher power that works for me
- To feel more integrated – spirit, thoughts, emotions, body, behavior
This list may seem a little daunting – if you are like me, there are a lot of places where you can become even more skillful! Fortunately, it is the journey that is most rewarding, so choose some goals and work on them. The definition of success I like comes from Napoleon Hill; “Success is the progressive realization of a worthwhile goal.” Or as we say in NLP, “Excellence is a process of approximation.” Make a choice about a goal and work hard towards it!
Happy Valentine’s all! Here is another blog on relationships, if this catches your attention, consider joining us in for our upcoming workshop on Love, Sex and Intimacy! https://www.facebook.com/events/1884365738472695/
“If you really loved me you would know what I wanted!” Have you ever felt that way (or heard that)? I have. I would love to have my wife psychicly tune into my every desire and meet it. Peeled grapes? Already at hand. A little firmer touch? No problem, she would know my desire before I even asked. Unfortunately, I am no longer in the womb, so I actually have to participate in creating what I want. Bummer!
In relationships, it is your responsibility to know what you want, it is not the other person’s job.
Most people are not absolutely sure of what they want because they are still in the process of discovering themselves. This is natural. How are you going to know what flavor of ice cream you want (or what kind of attention you crave) if you haven’t experienced a lot of flavors? Fortunately, as you accumulate more life experience you are more likely to know what you want.
We discover what we want through a process of experiencing the varieties available. And to get what you want in a relationship, you first have to be able to identify it.
This is not as easy as it may seem. Haven’t you been told since you were a small child about what you “should” want and what you “shouldn’t”? Mother culture teaches us what societally acceptable desires are and loosening up this brainwashing can be very difficult. Please take this seriously, so many people are striving to fit the roles their parents and teachers taught them were appropriate.
Want to be clearer about what you want in certain area? Educate yourself about the choices available. Want the perfect recipe for cheesecake? Taste a lot of cheese cakes. How, you might ask, do we apply this to a more time consuming issue like co-creating a great relationship? Good question – we have to be creative and make use of all of our experiences, from movies and books to stories from our friends about their relationships, to actual connections with others. Using all of that as raw material, we then start asking ourselves questions about specific situations. (When you ask yourself a question it focuses your attention and your amazing brain will usually come up with some pretty good answers.)
Questions like: In my dream relationship, how would my partner greet me when we haven’t seen each other for awhile? How would we talk about disagreements? Who would do what chores? How would we handle money? How often would we have sex? What kind of sex would we have? Where would we live? What kind of food would we eat? How often would we be able to vacation? Where? Would we have kids?…. you get the idea, lots of these kinds of questions to help you flesh out your ideal relationship fantasy.
Just because you create a fantasy, of course, does not mean that you will be able to make it come true, but the more you know what you want the more likely you will be able to recognize it when you see it. Are you in a relationship now? If so, it is a great opportunity to share honestly with your partner some of the details of your fantasy. How else are they going to know? And they may secretly be wanting the same thing.
Do be a little cautious about this – because of that pesky societal programming people can get confused about what they want, choosing one thing while in their heart of hearts they long for another. Be as honest with yourself as you can, be willing to entertain the possibility of craving something unusual or that looks needy or shameful.
In my next blog I’ll talk about the next step in this process – actually asking for what you want!
Psychotherapy is costly both in terms of time and money. Here are some ideas on how to make your investment in therapy as useful as possible. You don’t have to use all of these suggestions, and these are not rigid rules that you must follow. However, paying attention to these will improve your experience in therapy.
First off, make sure that you feel good about me and my approach. Therapy is most effective when you are completely open with me, so take your sense of safety with me seriously. If you are cautious to talk with me about certain things, the reason for your caution is something we should talk about.
I would like to earn your trust and become your closest confidant. This will take some time, but if you do not feel your trust in me building, please bring it up! I want to co-create a relationship where you can freely share almost anything (except for some things that are illegal, like murder, or suicide). That is a part of the special joy of a psychotherapy relationship. You can tell me anything you want about yourself, and I won’t judge, I won’t insult or berate, and I won’t just leave you unexpectedly (to the extent this is within my power). It’s such a valuable and unique relationship; please take advantage of it as much as possible.
A good therapeutic relationship is made rather than simply found. Be creative about helping me get to know you. The better I know you, the more effective our work together will be. Share photos of your family and loved ones, bring in your art work, share a favorite song, ask to meet at a special location, go for a walk or invite me to your home. Make use of methods that have worked for you to build other relationships You are paying me for my time, and we can be creative about how we spend that time. Don’t worry, if I am not comfortable with it, I will let you know.
To deepen the relationship, be direct with me. No therapist is perfect. What am I doing that works and doesn’t work? Am I leaving things out that you had hoped would be part of our work together? Do you find me cold? Intrusive? Not challenging enough? Too challenging? Do you worry that you like me too much or that you depend on me too much? Say so. This sort of direct communication not only helps me help you, it also helps you get comfortable with parts of yourself that you usually hide. A core principle of therapy is that it’s the relationship that heals. But you can’t just show up; you need to open up too.
It would not make much sense to go to your medical doctor and not be open about your symptoms – similarly, in therapy, please be open and direct with me about what is bothering you. If you are not comfortable telling me, please tell me that! “I want to talk about something, but I do not yet feel safe enough with you to be that vulnerable.”
I am a very good and experienced therapist. I can only be a great therapist for you with your active collaboration in designing our work together.
Schedule sessions at a good time for you. Make sure you have the mental space to really dive into your concerns and that you are not having to “hold yourself together” so you can handle your next commitment. Make some time after the session to journal a bit and reflect on what happened.
Keep your appointments, be on time and pay your bills. This is a very basic way of honoring the work we are trying to do together. Emotionally, I can only really invest in your healing to the extent that I feel you investing in it.
Define observable benchmarks for the changes you want, whether in terms of behavior, thought, or feeling. The work of each session will likely be different, but therapy should be getting you closer to your benchmarks. If not, we should talk about that.
A really great therapy session generally follows this pattern:
- Logistics first
- Check our relationship – clear and connected.
- Do the work of the day.
- Plan how to use today’s material in your outer life.
- Finish up with shared appreciation.
Here is little more on each of these:
Take care of the logistics first – it is almost always disruptive to have to handle these at the end, so do the money, scheduling, insurance and any questions first.
Centering in yourself. This might just take you a breath, but sometimes it can be very useful to take several breaths to clear a space from your day, deepen your mindfulness and focus on your goals for the session. You may already know how to do this, if not, I can offer you a variety of approaches.
Keep our relationship clear and connected. Please bring up any concerns you have in our relationship and talk about them. If there are no unresolved issues between us, check the quality of our connection and fine tune it – do you want to feel closer? Less close? Is our physical proximity comfortable?
A word on physical contact – I am cautious about physical contact because I do not want to invade your space or to create an ambiguous situation. At the same time, physical contact can be very helpful. Personally, because I can get so much information about another person through touch, touching the person I am with often helps me feel safer. I spent years doing massage, and these days I dance and do interactive martial arts; I am very comfortable being physically connected with others.
I believe that most people are touch-deprived and that this creates a malaise in the human organism. For these and other reasons, touch may be an important part of your healing work. It can also bring up issues around boundaries, affection and sexuality that are difficult (and extremely useful) to grapple with.
Do the work of the day. I will often ask you, “What would you like to work on today?” or “What would be most useful to go into today?” It is helpful if you have put some thought into these questions before the session.
Since our relationship is a co-creation, neither of us really know in advance what is going to happen next or what will be most healing for you. Here are some ways we might use our time:
Sharing about your week – there is no need for you to do this, although for some people this is a way for them to include me in their lives, to feel understood and known, to report on progress, and to bring out problem areas. You may be going through a particularly difficult period in your life and needing some quality support and validation.
Talking more deeply about our relationship and relationships in general. Ideally, we are co-creating an unusually open and trusting relationship. Talking about the process is important and talking abut how it is, and is not like your other relationships is part of that.
Being witnessed in the unfolding of your present experience. Most people have little experience being totally transparent with another. Therapy is a place where you can do that and at some point I encourage you to take advantage of that.
Clearing your past. Many people carry distress from their past or immature learnings that have never been updated. It is profoundly helpful to methodically clear this up. This requires focused work and the sooner in your life you do it, the better.
Developing new skills. So much of the quality of your life experience is based on your self management skills and your skills in interacting with others. Improving these skills -whether in terms of thinking, emotion, or behavior – is an essential part of your personal growth. Again, the sooner you do this in your life the longer you will enjoy the results.
Plan how to use today’s material in your outer life. Often it can be useful to co-design specific exercises or to plan out conversations to be had with important people. Follow through and accountability in taking your new tools and insights into your life is essential. If we agree on some “homework”, do it!
Finish up with shared appreciation. Ideally, we just co-created a powerfully caring and healing session together. Honoring the sacred space we entered, and are now leaving, is important.
In between sessions:
Journal about the process – taking the time to reflect on paper about our sessions will solidify your insights and strengthen your resolve to practice new skills.
Share about your experience in therapy with supportive others – this can be a great way to involve your supporters in your growth. But be selective; you do not need to share everything with anyone and sometimes tender areas of new growth benefit from privacy.
Put the gains you have been making in therapy into practice! If we made agreements around specific follow through, do your homework. When you find opportunities to practice new interpersonal skills or skills for self-management, put these to use. As with anything else new, be prepared to make some mistakes at first!
Prepare for your next session – think about topics you would like to address, problematic areas in your life or skills you would like to develop. Sometimes it can help to write these down and bring your notes to the next session. Not preparing for a therapy session or waiting until the last minute may inadvertently make it more difficult to talk about what is really important. As you know, preparation is key for anything worthwhile in life.
When it is time for us to complete…
It is natural to wonder about when our therapy relationship will be complete. Please talk about this with me when it is up for you. My investment in you and your wellbeing will mirror your investment in therapy. This is in the coin of time and money, but more importantly, in the coin of respect and care. When I invest in you, I make the agreement to show up with all of myself in each session, and to not break the relationship off without discussion. Please show me the same respect.
Sometimes it is appropriate for us to taper in our work together, having sessions once a month or as needed. We can talk about these specifics when the time comes.
If our work together has been effective, you will have made great strides towards your personal goals and we will also have developed a personally caring relationship. I know from experience that my caring for my clients endures beyond our professional relationship. We may choose to stay in touch for years…or not. We can decide together.